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Blog Stories – July 6, 2020

Panel: ‘Short-Sighted’ Recycling Pause Due to Covid-19 Damages U.S. Manufacturing

Recycling is not a luxury. Recycled materials that are gathered by curbside and other municipality-backed recycling programs are used to make vital things, like packaging for groceries and hospital equipment. Covid-19 has impacted recycling programs and practices to the point that manufacturers are having a hard time getting enough recycled materials to create every day supplies, and that includes O-I Glass, the world’s largest manufacturers of glass packaging for food and beverage makers.  

The United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recognizes the pandemic’s profound impact on U.S. manufacturing and hosted a virtual panel July 2 to address Covid’s immediate and long-term implications. Randy Burns, O-I’s Chief Sustainability Officer, was among the participants. Burns was joined by Sue Magness, Recycling Coordinator for the City of Cincinnati, and Victor Zapata, Recycling Commercial Director at America’s Dow Packaging. Stephanie Potter, the foundation’s Executive Director of Sustainability and Circular Economy Program moderated the discussion. 

“As a manufacturer of a product that is literally endlessly recyclable–it loses no quality or material when you recycle it–we strive to use as much recycled content as we can. And we’ve designed our process around it,” Burns said during the panel. “When an important piece of the supply chain is hit, we have to make adjustments.” 

Recycling remained an essential operation for the City of Cincinnati during lockdown, but that hasn’t been the case for all cities. Magness said municipalities who pulled the plug on recycling took a “short-sighted” view, and urged leaders to consider the bigger picture of how recycling directly impacts U.S. manufacturers.  

“A lot of people were thinking recycling is a luxury. We really have to get back to rebranding it as a core service,” Magness pointed out. “We need to keep manufacturing in the United States strong.” 

Later in the discussion, the panelists talked about ways to rethink how the U.S. approaches waste and recycling. One major theme is building a future that focuses on reusable, refillable packaging – like the ones several Oregon craft breweries use through the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative – over one-and-done single-use items. 

You can watch the one-hour panel on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s website.